ENNIS — Residents of Ennis are concerned about the Madison River and the air quality as a local gravel mine plans to expand.
The Ranch Manager for Valley Garden Ranch, Levi Chandler said the gravel pit will affect everything people come to the area for.
“They come for the wildlife and recreation,” said Chandler. “I don’t know why they’ve decided to make it bigger or what’s going on there.”
The DNRC owns a 160-acre lot of land on the east side of Highway 287, which is the site of a gravel pit owned and operated by A.M. Welles. The pit has been on this land for 30 years, leased to them by the DNRC.
Tim Hokanson, the owner of A.M. Welles says they’re expanding the pit because it’s outgrowing the boundary of their original permit through the DNRC.
“It’s only an extra 8 acres, I mean I know I’ve heard that it’s expanded by over 50 percent,” said Hokanson.
Hokanson said he’s heard a lot of misinformation on the gravel pit.
“They’re talking about bringing in an asphalt plant,” said Chandler.
Hokanson said this isn’t necessarily true.
"There’s not an asphalt plant in there now and there hasn’t been for the last 10-15 years,” said Hokanson. “The reason we left it in the permit was because if they’re going to redo the road out here it’s way more cost-effective for the state and taxpayer if they can get the stuff locally.”
On the other side of a fence from the gravel pit is land owned by a man who also owns Valley Garden Ranch right down the road. He recently filed a lawsuit against the DEQ, claiming that environmental assessments by the DEQ DNRC were performed after the permit to expand the mine was issued to A.M. Welles. He also claims that residents weren’t properly notified about the expansion of the pit.
But Hokanson with A.M. Welles and the DNRC said they did take the proper steps before deciding to expand the pit.
“A public notice went in the paper and there were no issues until a lawsuit came up that we supposedly hadn’t gone through all the proper channels,” said Hokanson.
Due to ongoing litigation, the DEQ was not willing to make a comment, but DNRC unit manager, Erik Eneboe says this about the gravel pit.
“We have literally hundreds of gravel pits throughout the state in Montana,” said Eneboe. “If they’re done right, they’re really sustainable, a good revenue source, and they don’t cause any problems.”
But Jon Malovich, the executive director for the Madison River Foundation disagrees.
“Currently there’s a bluff or a wall that’s made of gravel and dirt that protects the overall view, but also protects the ability for runoff to go directly into the Madison and into the tributaries, “said Malovich.
A.M. Welles has been permitted to eliminate this barrier.
“Two-thirds of that east wall has been exposed for the last 25 years so I don’t know why another 500-1,000 ft of that is going to change it,” said Hokanson.
Malovich said he believes this is the wrong attitude.
“So because we’ve been spilling chemicals into the water for the last 30 years, it’s still okay to do it today and tomorrow?” said Malovich.
Hokanson says any contamination would be extremely minimal in his opinion.
There can be dust involved with gravel, but we’re required by the DEQ to minimize the dust,” said Hokanson. “We use water control and there’s monitoring wells up there to monitor groundwater.”
The DNRC has posted a draft of its environmental assessment on its website that is out for public comment until November 25.
The Madison River Foundation dives further into their concerns.